By Nubia Reyna
Immersed in the smell of Colombian coffee and food, surrounded by colorful murals of coffee farms from her native country, Johanna Lozano, founder of Café Canasto, said her biggest passion is to support the coffee pickers in Colombia.
“The ‘canasto’ is the basket that the coffee pickers use to collect the coffee,” she said.
“My passion is to support the coffee pickers and the owners of the fincas, they’re the ones who do the hardest job. My passion is the crops, the farms, the coffee farms because I grew up there.”
Originally from Colombia, Lozano grew up in “Finca El Encanto” a coffee farm owned by her parents. She said growing up there made her be very interested in the whole process coffee goes through.
“I obviously was too little and I didn’t drink coffee, but I do remember my dad drinking his coffee and I always thought it was amazing,” she said remembering her childhood.
“He was roasting his own coffee, processing it and cultivating it. Me and my brothers would help to pick the coffee beans, I went through the whole process. Just being there and knowing it’s such a hard job and that’s why I wanted to honor the coffee farmers with the name.”
Café Canasto started first as an importation business, but eventually grew into catering and now, this year just four days before the pandemic forced businesses to close in Brownsville, into a unique coffee shop.
“We were booked to do catering for three weddings,” she said talking about two years ago when Café Canasto started. “It wasn’t in my mind to do catering. But we were busy every week, and it started to become really good and I postponed the opening of the coffee shop so we could get more exposure. We dedicated the time to do catering and distribute coffee beans. We distribute the coffee now to different parts of the U.S. and the United Kingdom, including London.”
Lozano said even though businesses had to close because of the pandemic, she was blessed enough to be able to stay open because the coffee shop has a drive-thru. She added she always had that goal for Café Canasto where a drive-thru would be available.
“We’ve never been completely closed because we have the drive-thru,” she said. “I just had that in my mind, and I thank God for that, but I wanted a place with a drive-thru and the drive-thru is what saved us.”
At first, Lozano created the coffee menu, which was a big challenge because she only drinks black coffee. Later, she traveled back to Colombia where she immersed herself in cooking classes with her tías, parents and family so they could teach her all the authentic recipes for the arepas and empanadas.
“For two weeks I dedicated myself to do the coffee menu and I only drink black coffee. What I like to drink the most is espresso, I don’t add milk or sugar, anything. So, it was very hard to create the menu so I would bring my friends so they would try the coffee and help me,” she said laughing.
“Then, we started to work on the food menu. And so, I traveled again to Colombia because I did know about coffee but I did not know a lot about the food. So my tías and mis papás taught me everything. The whole family would be there sharing the recipes and showing me how to do the empanadas, the arepas, everything that we have here in the menu.”
Lozano said there are times when she feels like giving up and closing the coffee shop but she then remembers of all the people the shop is helping. She said the main goal of Café Canasto is to provide opportunities for people not only in Brownsville but also in her native country. Café Canasto hires only single mothers at the lab where coffee beans are inspected so they have better opportunities to provide for their families.
“We have to inspect every single bean about four times,” she said. “We have a lab in the coffee region and in that lab we only hire single mothers to help them. They are the ones that inspect the beans.”
Lozano said Café Canasto is on the higher end because it has a long process that makes it healthier.
“If you eat a fried empanada here and there it’s OK,” she said laughing. “But coffee is something that you drink every day, so, you have to make sure that what you’re putting in your body is really healthy.”